The Cutting Room Floor: Happy Trees
There was a time in Legacy when turning a Grindstone sideways with the “Bob Ross” of scarecrows on the battlefield was a dangerous situation. It’s been a while since the combination has been deemed a strong, viable strategy due in large part to not only the presence of removal but the presence of Eldrazi in opponents’ decks that inhibit an empty library.
You know what? Painter’s Servant and Grindstone is still my favorite combination in all of Magic. If Magic: the Gathering had a definitive guide to all-time combos, this would be right near the top. The deck’s success is limited obviously by the aforementioned inhibitors, but even more so by the amount of removal in the format. These days, it’s incredibly hard to keep a high-value target in play, let alone something like a Painter’s Servant.
But you know something? We’re going to try and make it work today. I’ve been conceptualizing a list for the last few months I like to call “Happy Trees” as an obvious homage to the late Bob Ross and the innuendo of “Trees” being green. It’s basically a Painter’s Servant-Grindstone deck that in essence isn’t a Painter’s Servant-Grindstone deck because it utilizes a variety of cards to help the deck operate and function on its own. It’s an untested and unproven deck to be sure, but that’s the selling point of most of my article(s): I want to encourage you all to try new things!
Let’s start off with the initial list I’ve been tinkering with.
I’ll go into the sideboard in a minute. For now, let’s look at the list and evaluate the critical slots and they operate within the framework of the deck.
The synergy this creature has with the rest of the deck is really intriguing. His obvious compatibility with Grindstone is well-documented, but what really makes Painter good here is its ability to work with other cards in the deck that are already good in their own right. It must be said, however, that whenever Painter’s Servant sticks you should always name “Green.” In the event that he does manage to stay on the board, you turn cards like Natural Order into a tutor for any creature in your entire deck, no matter what color they are (because they’re green in addition to their other colors).
With Green Sun’s Zenith, you again can fetch up any creature in your deck that you can conceivably pay for. This neat interaction gives the deck some redundancy where it is sorely needed. The deck in its current form doesn’t have many off-color critters, but that can change quickly when you consider Deathrite Shaman’s ability to produce any color of mana. In that respect, Shaman also gives the deck’s ability to power out specialty creatures some redundancy.
With a sideboard that can potentially have some specialized targets, Zenith and Servant can become relatively dangerous, and in a hurry. Consider an opponent playing Eldrazi. It’s unlikely they have much removal, so you could in all fairness side in a Laboratory Maniac (!), fetch it with Zenith, and Grind YOURSELF out for the win. Not the most orthodox line of play, but the option remains there for use.
Poor Natural Order, forgotten in the mix of a format where it just isn’t that great anymore. Progenitus has virtually been outclassed by nastier options to cheat into play like Griselbrand, but who says it still can’t be good? In my opinion, I believe any card can be good in certain situations. The challenge is enabling the card to be good, which is what we’re trying to do here.
Painter’s Servant not around to Grind them out? No problem: go get that Progenitus. Need a Wall of Tarmogoyf to play defense? Fetch it up. Nasty Moat keeping you at bay? Grab that Elder to blow it up. Natural Order is more utility than anything else in this deck, which is why it’s here. If you need to win the game in a pinch, well then there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a Progenitus. There are plenty of other specialized targets you could conceivably grab, which is why it’s so multilateral in a deck with Painter’s Servant that turns everything green.
I’ve had some wonderful experiences with this card in the past (much like Natural Order), so I know how good it is. The issue here is just how good it is. I think the utility of the card goes without saying in addition to being an efficient beater. You could run only a single copy if you wanted to, but two might be worth it here. I like that he only costs four mana, which makes a Zenith a bit easier to pull off at five mana as opposed to six. This is relevant because the design of the card forces the player who is using it to necessitate that fifth mana for its activation cost, but getting it into play is the important thing.
There are plenty of cards in Legacy that you can target with Elder, from Batterskull and Counterbalance to the aforementioned Moat to Rest in Peace. Equipment will unlikely stick upon activation and Elder also beefs itself up in the process. I think it’s really good and deserves some consideration. This is part of the reason I opted to run a pair, but again I think you could get away with running one for utility purposes.
Deathmark is just a really good card, and I wholeheartedly believe that. It is, however, a narrow card in some circumstances. Right now with Junk and Rock making a stellar comeback one has to wonder whether or not it’s as narrow as people think it is. We’re also talking about running it in a deck that uses Painter’s Servant to turn things green, definitely a nice added bonus. By itself though, I think Deathmark is fine as a removal spell and can stunt an opponent’s early game. It knocks off Shaman and friends, so consider where the format is, what this deck does and what it costs. The reward outweighs the risks and it’s worth a few slots in a deck that purposely turns things into the color of grass to win games.
Of course, I am biased towards this card so understand that there could be other options used in this slot. At one mana and a healthy portion of the format turning green or white (independent of what Painter does) in the attack phase I just think it’s really good right now.
I am prepared to lose any and all credibility by advocating this card in a deck like this. It’s Deathgrip, folks. It counters green spells. And when your opponent will potentially be playing nothing but green spells, you’ve got a permanent lock on the table. Granted, it will tie up your resources, but you’ll also be swinging each turn and building your resources. I think a single copy adds a nice touch to the deck’s overall scheme. As a single copy it can do some degenerate things, but it also costs two black mana, which is why there are so few in this particular list.
This is the “Timmy” in me coming out, but even that sometimes bears some fruitful rewards.
Aside from these cards, most of the deck is pretty self-explanatory. The deck’s primary strategy is to assemble Painter’s Servant and Grindstone together. In doing so, there will be times the deck effortlessly vomits creatures onto the battlefield as a means to win, which is fine. Natural Order is another “Oops, I win” card that can act as a secondary win-condition, but consider your targets post-board. Finally, assume that smashing face with creatures and Jitte is another way to win games. The ironic thing is that in within the hilarious confines of a deck like this that would probably be the way you’ll win most games.
The sideboard to any competitive deck is incredibly important. But in a deck that can turn the structural components of the game into the color of its choosing, there are some really good options you could consider when trying to add to the overall flavor and strategy of the primary concept which is winning with Painter’s Servant.
Here are some cards I’ve considered for the sideboard of “Happy Trees.”
Dystopia is a pure control card, and a good one at that. If you’re playing against an opponent who has difficult removing creatures or has a multitude of green and white permanents, consider what Dystopia can do. It immediately becomes a Smokestack with Painter in play and knocks off unwanted threats from an opponent’s board. Dystopia requires little investment to be effective because once its cast you just pay its upkeep and ride it straight to victory. I think what I like most about it is that it forces an opponent to think, in addition to forcing a sacrifice on permanents that you can’t target.
While Dystopia is good on its own, with Painter as I mentioned it becomes almost like Smokestack. So in this case when you play it consider what you’re doing offensively; you’re going to be eliminating permanents slowly over the course of several turns. This can be incredibly effective against decks unprepared to deal with a strategy like this and is just an outstanding card overall.
Thorn of Amethyst
It’s hard to say whether or not Storm and fast combo is here to stay. Either way, the shift in the format has forced a lot of players to include hate in their sideboards for those match-ups specifically. With an arbitrary number of creatures in this particular deck, a card like Thorn can provide incredible backup with an assault at the ready. It slows a Storm player down enough to force them to either keep mana open for key Brainstorms or to use excessive mana during their turn to play cantrips.
The important thing to understand about Thorn is that it helps shut down early resources and sets up the attack step nicely. I like it personally over some of its counterparts like Trinisphere (which would be questionable here) and Chalice of the Void, which shuts down some of your key spells early on. With Wasteland it becomes even more nasty, but your Deathrite Shamans ensure the availability of mana on your side which is huge with fetches and Wastelands under Thorn.
There are a few other cards I think you could look at as reasonable options in Legacy right now, but realistically it’s a meta call. Terastadon is another card I think you could include in the sideboard as a specialized Natural Order target. The flexibility is limitless, but the key is building a sideboard that works and not one sloppily thrown together. Consider what is roaming in your local meta, test the list out and see what works best for you.
Legacy right now is primed for some innovative action. With a variety of decks taking center stage, I think it’s important to continue to strive for innovation – even if that means failing when doing so. This is especially true for newer players trying to get in to format and looking for something new to try. Painter’s Servant and Grindstone has some appeal to those folks because of its simplicity and fun nature, which is exactly what a deck like this is trying to provide.
From a competitive standpoint, I think this deck can stand its ground. It has more trumps against Rock and Junk in Natural Order and the Painter-Grindstone combination. And depending on how you choose to build your sideboard (which is meta dependent), you can move forward with this initial concept and turn some serious heads.
I think Painter and Grindstone right now is fine in the right shell. This one may not be the strongest, but with some tweaking and adjustments, perhaps planting some “happy” trees in your meta might not be such a bad idea after all.